At my Seder there will be no discussion or empty chairs for Darfur, gay marriage, global warming, abortion, Katrina, illegal aliens, Gaza settlements, Zimbabwe, Palestinian olive trees or the sinking of the Altalena.
We can talk about all that at Passover lunch, anytime after the Seder. But if Passover is so important that it must become a bleeding heart's Super Bowl, the repository of all that ails the world, then it's important enough to respect, beyond anything else, the Seder itself.
My idea of a Seder isn't the Village Voice and a kosher-style brisket.
The Seder already has a theme Passover and it doesn't need any help beyond that. The Seder celebrates an event of sufficient majesty and magnitude that it can and ought to stand alone, without political intrusions designed for the disinterested, not for the devoted.
On your wedding anniversary you don't buy flowers for other women.
At your Fourth of July barbecue you don't set up an empty chair to commemorate the rainforest.
On Thanksgiving, you don't talk about why Norwegians should give thanks.
Because on your anniversary, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, the mood and theme of the day is clear and sufficient, even to the most casual or political among us. Nothing speaks to the epidemic of Jewish confusion and spiritual anemia than the idea that the Seder the most magical, cinematic, musical, mysterious, historical and child-friendly night of the year is considered insufficient or unsatisfying as is.
We'll get back to outreach, pluralism and ecumenicism tomorrow. But tonight, stranger, you outreach to me. Tonight, you figure me out. On the Seder night, let's focus on the Jew within. This night is about how we left Egypt. This is the "night of watching," remembering what G-d did for us on that long-ago night of chills.
As is, a good solid Seder filled with commentary, children passing along insights they learned at school, numerous musical interludes and reflection on our national birth and liberation should take us from early evening until the wee hours of the morning.
It's long enough. You really, really want to talk about how much the American refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty reminds you of babies thrown in the Nile? Fine. We'll talk about it at lunch. The tragedy of Darfur will still be around on the afternoon after the Seder and you can commemorate it then.
Or will you be gone by then?
Sometimes, even in this self-indulgent era, Judaism isn't about you. It's not about me. The Seder asks that we be about the Seder.
Everyone is welcome to come to the Seder, not to hijack it.
A Seder can be hijacked by the arrogance of political advocates who think their causes are too obvious for anyone to dispute. Remember, the Seder often has many guests and family members of diverse backgrounds and politics. In these very uncivil times, someone who disagrees with us politically is all too often called "an idiot," or worse. The Seder's spirituality can be punctured by someone like TV host Bill Maher, who said that he hopes the president dies. Your uncle's fourth wife, the one you don't really know, could be waiting to unleash some Ann Coulter or Rosie O'Donnell broadsides. Or, worst of all, someone who was engrossed by the Seder is now less engaged by your soapbox and is intimidated into silence, alienated from a Seder that was doing just fine a minute ago.
You may think global warming is a perfectly reasonable topic to bring up at a Seder. After all, it's a "planetary emergency," says Al Gore. But writing in The Boston Globe, columnist Ellen Goodman says that "global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers," and maybe you have an Auschwitz survivor at your table who doesn't think its on a par and is profoundly wounded by the very idea.
The New York Times Science section recently reported that "scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous." Well, if some at the Seder believe as strongly as Goodman and some believe as strongly as the Science Times experts, and if that survivor is painfully distracted, the Seder can get ugly in a hurry, completely unmoored from its spiritual plane and the subject at hand the Haggadah. Remember the Haggadah?
Hey, pal. Yeah you, the one who wanted to make the Seder relevant. You just turned the Seder into something divisive, something about you. Thanks, but no thanks.
It's not a chance worth taking.
Long after the Seder we can read the morning paper and think about the distance between the Haggadah's promise and the day's front page. The Haggadah is eternal; the front page comes and goes. William Faulkner said the past is never dead, it's not even past. I'm still leaving Egypt.
My Seder is timeless. It doesn't need help.